We will start off as usual with a bit of background information on the company and in this case, that represents 17 years of experience with both the professional and home audio markets catered for. This Finish Company separates those into two categories named “Enjoy” and “Create”. I don’t normally bother to mention this but the website is outstanding, a brilliant combination of style and ease of use, incredibly user friendly and very informative. Will that combo reflect on their speakers? We shall see.
Amphion is pretty clear on what they have set out to accomplish and what their speakers should represent. They claim a lot of individual points, but what they are getting at is that they are extremely versatile. This comes from the philosophy of “designing and manufacturing loudspeakers, which are insensitive to problems of room acoustics.” It is claimed that their speakers sound great as a near field monitor as well as a room filling loudspeaker for both movies and music. Bold claims indeed, but many companies have huge aspirations and claims, but I don’t often see speaker manufacturers boasting versatility like this which is strange as I think it’s hugely important. Needless to say, I was pretty bloody keen to see if they could fulfil the marketing hoo-ha and if they had managed it, what would the speaker actually sound like.
Before that though, let’s talk a little bit about the specs of this loudspeaker. The operating principle is what you would expect from a loudspeaker of this size, a 2-way, rear ported design with a 1″ titanium tweeter and a 5.25” aluminium cone for everything else. The crossover point is 1600 Hz which seems a little low but there is a good reason for it which I shall explain later. This is an 8 ohm bookshelf as I would expect and we have a sensitivity of 86 dB very similar to the Kef LS50 actually. We have a frequency response of 45 – 20 000 Hz +/-3dB which isn’t half bad for a smallish bookshelf especially with the size of this driver! Power recommendations are stated at the usual wide spread of 20-150W and having tested with several amps I think it genuinely doesn’t mind if it’s a big bruiser of an amp or a high quality low powered one it is unfussy in this regard. The speaker itself measures in at 316x160x265mm and weighs a pretty modest 8 Kg.
I told you I would talk a bit more about that unusually low crossover, it’s all about understanding hearing and how, as a designer, you can make life easier for yourself when engineering a crossover. I had a chat with Amphions owner, Anssi and he explained to Sonny and I that it was a completely reasoned decision. The human ears are most sensitive between 2 kHz and 5 kHz so why put the “seam” within this range? Anssi had the great analogy of a sofa company putting a seam in the middle of a cushion. If you think about it, he has a point it seems as though by most companies putting the crossover within the range that is naturally most sensitive to little details they are genuinely making the job of the crossover much more difficult for themselves. If your tweeter is able to deal with frequencies at 1600 Hz it really does seem like a very good idea even if it is the lazier option.
I also sent an email regarding the waveguide that is so familiar with all of Amphions speakers to see what effect this had on the performance or if it was just aesthetic reasons. It turns out the tweeter being slightly recessed in the chassis is beneficial for time and phasing and it is crucially one of the reasons these speakers are alleged to work so well in a multitude of environments. The horn like shape is said to even out the dispersion between tweeter and woofer, so that speaker works in more predictable way in different rooms. We will see later how fussy they were with placement etc.
The reply was very helpful and free from any marketing BS so I will simply quote part of the reply for you to read.
“Due to the low crossover point our speakers act as point sources even if they do not look like them. Let`s calculate the wavelength at 1600 Hz. At 20 degree Celsius we will land on 21.45 cm (see http://www.1728.org/freqwavf.htm). At 3000 Hz this is 11.44 cm. Now take a ruler and check what is happening with your speakers. Normally you can fit this 11.44cm between the centre points of your drivers which means that your ear picks up two separate sound sources and your auditory system will never be fooled to think that you are listening to natural sound.
If the wavelength is longer than the distance between the centre points of the drivers your ears cannot localize the separate drivers but sense them as one big cohesive unit. This happens with our speakers with all the models as wavelength at 1600 Hz is as long as 21.46 cm.”
So there you have it, maths proving the use of a low crossover has more benefits than just being outside the most sensitive band.
Build and Aesthetics:
In the box you receive a pair of Argon 1’s complete with grills and a pad of sticky feet for placement at your own chosen mark. We also have two bass port bungs so the speakers can be placed closer to the wall without bass bloat normally gained by putting a rear ported speaker closer to a wall. You obviously get a small product sheet too.
There are a few colour options for the Argon range which are full white, full black, white with black speaker grill, white with black wave guide and black speaker grill. There are also wood veneer options in the form of cherry, birch and walnut. My sample is walnut and I think it looks fantastic. The combination of the black grill and waveguide with the walnut veneer gives a really contemporary twist to the wood look we usually associate with a more traditional loudspeaker design. The fact that the waveguide and grill are almost identical in diameter also gives the speaker a symmetry that I think is subtly very satisfying.
Normally when you see the finish option of wood veneer you have a general idea that it’s going to be a thin layer of stick on wood that even if its fitted perfectly, doesn’t quite sit right or match right at the vertices. This is so far away from the level of finish achieved on these speakers, it feels, and looks like a solid wood cabinet with the unmistakable real wood ridges and grain textures that you just don’t get in your average cabinet anywhere near this price point. The bass port at the rear of the cabinet suggests the veneer is still only a thin veneer, I know it is not any thicker than any generic veneer surface but the look and feel suggests otherwise. Not only is this great for aesthetic reasons but I feel it would be a more durable option than a lower quality finish in terms of scratching etc, it’s really very nice.
It’s the details that you notice when you’ve owned them for a little while that makes you realise there has genuinely been some time taken to make sure these are made properly. The waveguide is inserted beautifully and completely evenly all the way round with no sign of any glue or other adhesive around the edge. The speaker terminals at the back of the unit are also pretty solid and really are all you need for quick, easy connection.
There are one or two things I would view as an improvement, I’m being picky but you know that’s what we do here! The first thing is the housing for the terminals on the back. Its plastic; I would like to see it made of steel just to keep this high quality feel these speakers really do have. I appreciate it would be a lot more costly but I think when you are spending £1200 on a pair of speakers it’s these touches that make the difference. The second thing is the grill that fits on the front of the mid/bass driver, while it is metal, has a lovely design and feels really sturdy, the back of it isn’t sprayed. This could be something you never ever notice but for me it would be nice to see that extra attention to detail. I have one more problem with the grill too which may be why I have a grudge against it, when removing one of them to have a look I managed to cut myself on the really quite sharp edges but again if you buy the speakers and leave them in place (as I would) neither of these things would ever be an issue.
Overall I think the Argon 1 looks beautiful and is very solid in its construction with only the very observant and critical among us having anything to possibly find ‘below par’. Nice job here.
The area we’ve all been waiting for, at last.
I’m actually going to begin by pointing out a quality that I’ve never before mentioned and that is about Amphion themselves as opposed to a specific speaker. They seem to have a complete understanding of what they set out to achieve, not only this but they actually DO what they have set out to accomplish. I mentioned earlier that on their site they are all about hearing more of your music and less of your room and also how they are designed to work in a multitude of applications from near field to movies and on to full blown Hi-Fi. Naturally, I have been testing whether the claims are accurate because as we know everyone likes to claim things in this industry. To my delight and amazement, the Argon 1 is able to deliver a consistently capable performance in every field it has been given which believe me, is no mean feat. In terms of the room situation, as I have said before I’m lucky enough to be able to test stuff in a load of spaces from big living rooms with 9ft ceilings all the way to little boxy rooms which are beyond difficult to sound acceptable in. My findings are that they are pretty unfussy to place in a room. You don’t really have to sit there with your roll of sellotape making minor adjustments just to get them to sound half decent. This is helpful if you want better sound in a living space which is where most people will be buying these speakers for I would assume. In terms of room size I have only had one situation where they sounded uncharacteristically disappointing with recessed mids and very little treble presence. That was in a very small room with two doors, a big cupboard and a slight L shape so come on this was hardly a fair place to expect them to perform. The reason I did it though was because they seemed to handle everywhere else just fine. So the message here is that without being silly either way, huge or tiny, these speakers are seriously dependable whatever the environment you put them in. Whether purely music or TV audio too they offer a versatility that can’t be ignored.
Low level listening is something that often gets overlooked in reviews but I think it is still an important factor, especially in a speaker at this sort of price range where regular low level listening is likely. In this aspect the Argon 1 excels. The dynamic nature and full bodied musicality make them just as enjoyable at low volumes and you don’t get that itch to keep turning them up to get the best out of them. The dispersion means they have a room filling quality too which is where they trump similarly priced rivals at low levels.
If you want to rock out (along with your neighbours) at ‘antisocial’ listening levels then I will let you know these probably aren’t for you, they perform really well and comfortably at low to the upper side of medium listening levels but if you really push it they do lose a bit of stability. Films are an example of when it’s nice to really crank it for example. This is only when you really go for it though they go plenty loud enough for the majority of applications and users.
A brief description of the overall sound would be that this is a speaker that is very engaging, we have a full bodied, really quite big sound given out from these little boxes; all-encompassing in a sense. The vocal presentation is extremely detailed and positioned very separately to the rest of the music, it draws attention to itself and we love that here at Inearspace. Treble is very smooth and not as present as some will want, having said this it is never fatiguing or uncomfortable. This has the effect of making poorer recordings more listenable than some of the sparkly treble kings that will highlight any compression in a recording in an occasionally unwanted way. Bass is full and well extended for the size of the unit and this gives you a lovely atmospheric effect that is why everyone seems to enjoy them.
This won’t be to everyone’s tastes but then again nothing ever is in audio is it. Top end is a bit laid back for me however there is no denying this comes with a very comfortable easy going nature that makes the sound so cozy. You sit down, you put on your tunes and you can just listen. I’m a sucker for listening to a stereo and being too critical and can find myself analysing too much but the sweetness and smoothness in the treble does the opposite, it gets you enjoying your music, even if I would like a little more presence myself and some others will too. It is a great quality to have for easy listening situations, for everyone, not just the ‘audiophiles’ of the world. If you prefer a more aggressive top end with a bit of sparkle and shimmer look elsewhere but if you like something smoother, more controlled this is it.
This is my favourite aspect of the Argon 1’s without a doubt. Coherency is brilliant, just shows sometimes the easy ways work, hey! A literally seamless transition, a clever idea well implemented. There is an openness and presence that is just so captivating! Separation of vocals is really shockingly good and this mid-band really could go to- to-toe with more expensive and much bigger loudspeakers. Bags of detail are on offer which is supported by the fuller overall sound to give a real technical insight without ever feeling cold or detached from the music. Seeing as it’s particularly good here, I will take this opportunity to tell you that the imaging and separation is really good unless you are being silly with the loud wheel. I respect any speaker that can position a vocal as well as this, with good equipment it’s a very ‘out of the box’ presentation.
This area is also a little more revealing, which was demonstrated best when running through a series of amps from Quad, Symphonic Line, Roksan and NAD’s master series where they took on some of the character of each amp, whilst they aren’t the level of insight to which they will ruin your favourite song by showing you every flaw in the recording. It also has the benefit of making them pretty unfussy to match; they don’t have synergy issues in the way some do which is cool. I love my LS50’s but they can be a pain to match and get the best out of them (power requirements being an example). If someone asked me about getting a pair of Argon’s I wouldn’t be as concerned about the synergy with the rest of their equipment as much as I would be with lots of other speakers which is a benefit of not being ultra-transparent. I haven’t heard a set up where they sound ‘off’ or just plain wrong like is possible with matching speakers and front ends (if you have had the problem you will understand the annoyance).
They extend better than any bookshelf I’ve heard under £1500, it’s as simple as that. There’s plenty of it too, it’s the bottom end that gives the sound its scale and fullness at listening levels where these qualities are rare. It really does pull the sound together into a complete package. Personal preference might play a part here but I think more bass impact (not quantity) and energy would benefit the bottom end, a touch quicker decay would also tighten everything up and put the bass more in line with the magnificent vocal. Quantity is about right for me just a little refinement at the bottom and other brands would have a real struggle keeping up with Amphion at this price and in some areas, they still do.
It’s always interesting to gauge ‘normal peoples’ reactions to a sound and interestingly the few people that have come into the room to either ask me to turn it down or see what it is I’m doing have all really liked the sound which isn’t always the case. Sometimes it’s like “yea sounds ok” or words to that effect but with these we got sentences like “the sound is just… there” and “put this on”, “put that on!” It got my friends & family interested in what I was doing and wanting to listen, pretty darn cool. They really are a very enjoyable musical speaker.
At £1179 they certainly aren’t the cheapest but these are a very nice small speaker, they provide a musical and engaging sound that is simply put, very easy to enjoy. As long as crazy volume and forward sparkling treble presence isn’t your thing, I don’t think you will be left wanting. It handles positioning, room conditions, genres, partnering equipment and source material better than most making it extra attractive for anyone who uses their speakers in a living area. When you consider this and then couple it with the great vocal performance, low-mid volume level dynamism and fullness to the sound you do see that these really are a very capable and tremendously versatile speaker that sets themselves apart to a lot of the alternatives. Amphion are doing things a little differently, and they are doing what they set out to do, they must be commended for that.
They deserve the Inearspace ‘Good Buy’ award.